Although she’d never had the first sip of booze Friday, Ande Andrews was as drunk as a skunk when she got behind the wheel and crashed into construction cones. And standing by watching the whole scene was a team of Florida Highway Patrol troopers.
Fortunately for Andrews, her drunk driving experience won’t land her in jail, in a hospital bed, or even worse - in the grave. This Liberty County High School teen was among several students from both sides of the bridge who took part in Teen Driver Improvement training.
The program, funded by a Highway Safety Grant through the Florida Department of Transportation, is a free course that educates teen drivers about the dangers of impaired driving, aggressive driving, and distracted driving. It also is an opportunity to reinforce the benefits of seatbelt use.
But the troopers teaching the course got some help on the latter topic when a teen showed up for the class last Thursday and shared her own experience. “She had been in a rollover accident two weeks ago,” Trooper Jason King reports. “She told us she wasn’t lucky, she was blessed.”
Joining Trooper King in teaching the class were his partners on the road, Troopers Dusty Arnold, Ronnie Snipes, and Wes Harsey.
“We wanted to show teens that local troopers from here, who graduated here, really care about them,” King remarks. “When we write them a ticket, we are not trying to be mean - it’s because we do care.”
Hopefully, after the training participants have been receiving in their half day sessions, they won’t be getting any traffic tickets. After a classroom session where they talk about real road issues, the teens get to experience some driving situations in hands on training behind the wheel of a golf cart.
With the training held at the Veterans Memorial Civic Center in Bristol, the back parking lot provides a perfect site for the driving course lined with cones. The first time around the course, the teens get familiar with the roadway. The second time, they experience typical distractions with friends in the back talking and yelling, a radio blaring, the cell phone ringing, someone texting, all the things that go on regularly in cars driven by teens. And, let’s be honest, even adults. The third time around is an experience all it’s own. The teen driver is fitted with goggles that simulate what the world looks like when you’re drunk. The driver fumbles for the keys, tries to crank the golf cart, then tackles the road.
Needless to say, many cones hit the ground in this portion of the class, but teens see in a safe environment how dangerous it is to consume alcohol or drugs, then get behind the wheel.
After the driving portion, teens return to the classroom for a brief talk and a dramatic conclusion to the program. Students are asked to pull out a piece of paper and pen, then think about their loved ones. The troopers then ask them, “If this was your last letter, what would you say?”
Participants get a chance to think about how their choices on the road could literally end their lives as they write that letter. “They can keep it and give it to a loved one, or we will mail it for them,” says King.
If you are interested in sending your teen to the traffic safety program, several dates remain open. The course is open to teens age 15-19 who have a current operators license or learners permit on the date of the program. Sessions are planned:
Aug. 28, 3:45 to 7:45 p.m. ET
Aug. 29, 8:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. ET
Sept. 5, 8:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. ET
Sept. 12, 8:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. ET
Sept. 19, 8:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. ET
For more information or to sign up for a class, please contact Jessica McClendon at 643-2339.
Organizers extend their appreciation to Monica Brinkley of the Liberty County Extension Service, along with Rhonda Lewis and Jessica McClendon of the Liberty County Emergency Management Office for all their help and support. Also, special thanks to Benny Jacobs of VMS, Jim Shuler of the Liberty County Road Department, and the City of Bristol, all of whom donated cones to be used in the safety training program.
This program is presented through a partnership between the Liberty County Emergency Management with Liberty County Board of County Commissioners and the Liberty County Community Traffic Safety Team.